The New York Post - August 15, 2011
ALBANY, N.Y. — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed a new law to strengthen ethics enforcement for government officials. The measure, which the governor proposed, establishes a new 14-member Joint Commission on Public Ethics to oversee and investigate compliance by lawmakers. It will also monitor executive branch and legislative employees and oversee registration and conduct of lobbyists. Six members will be chosen by the governor. Four will be selected by legislative leaders, with at least four from each major political party. Those functions have been handled by the Commission on Public Integrity, which will close, and the Legislative Ethics Commission, which will continue and have authority to impose penalties. The law requires legislators to disclose more about their private businesses and income and their law firm clients.
Governor Cuomo Signs New Ethics Laws
The New York Law Journal by John Caher - August 16, 2011
With a new ethics bill signed yesterday by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, New York became one of a handful of states requiring its lawyer-legislators to disclose the identity of their clients. Under the Public Integrity Reform Act, lawyers will be required to publicly reveal the identity of their own clients and clients they referred to the firm, when the client is doing business with, receiving grants from, seeking legislation from or is in litigation with the state. Additionally, every appearance by a lawyer-legislator before a state administrative agency will be recorded by the agency and made public. New York joins California, Washington, Alaska and Louisiana in requiring its lawyer-lawmakers to reveal clients. The disclosure requirement takes effect in mid-2013, covering matters occurring during the 2012 calendar year. It kicks in when the legal fee exceeds $10,000 and the state contract is worth more than $50,000 or the grant is worth more than $25,000. The law affects only new clients or new matters for existing clients and attorney-legislators will not have to identify clients who are being represented in connection with an investigation or prosecution, involved in a domestic relations matter or a bankruptcy or "where disclosure of a client's identity is likely to cause harm." Some advocates had urged a stricter client disclosure provision that would have required lawyer-legislators to disclose the identity of all their clients when the fee exceeds a certain threshold, rather than only clients doing business with the state. Others called for a bill that would have required lawmaking lawyers to reveal the identity of all clients involved in a matter with the state, regardless of the amount of the fee. "It is a patchwork, a compromise," said Stephen Gillers, an ethics expert at New York University School. "There are gaps. It sacrifices the most efficient path to disclosure, which was apparently unattainable, for alternatives that may or may not be as effective. Only time will tell."
Russell Haven, an attorney and legislative director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, said lawyer-legislators looking for ways to skirt the new law will undoubtedly find "seams" that will need to be repaired later. Regardless, he said the measure is a major step forward. "Disclosure is really going to drive change in the Albany culture, and these disclosures will be very detailed and will send shock waves through the Legislature," Mr. Haven said. "Lobbyists will have to disclose business relationships with lawmakers. Lawmakers in consulting and law firms are going to have to disclose the relationships they have with clients having business before the state. It is a huge step forward in terms of information the public will get that tells a tale, to some extent, of how Albany operates." The New York State Bar Association and the New York City Bar applauded the bill. "We feel strongly that increasing public disclosure will go a long way toward restoring public confidence in government," said State Bar President Vincent E. Doyle. "We are ahead of the curve. Lawyers are of course subject to their own ethics rules and I don't think this creates new ethics obligations on the part of attorneys, although there are some additional obligations for attorneys." The state bar had urged provisions that would allow attorney-legislators to withhold the names of clients when appropriate, for example, when a client is in the early stages of a matrimonial matter and does not want a spouse to know a lawyer has been consulted. The final bill provides that protection. City bar spokesman Eric Freedman said that while that organization "would have preferred that the disclosure not have been limited to client matters directly with the State, but rather include clients for whom the legislator is handling a matter above a minimum fee threshold," it fully supports the signed bill. The city bar will be monitoring the effectiveness of the legislation and looks forward to working with the Legislature and governor on implementation and future reforms, Mr. Freedman said. Over the past six years, at least 13 New York state legislators have been forced from office for criminal or ethical lapses, according to a report earlier this year from the Citizens Union of New York City. Three of them were lawyers. However, their misconduct did not involve their outside practice of law.
Ethics package signed into law
The Times Union BLOG by Casey Seiler - August 15, 2011
As updated earlier today, Gov. Cuomo has signed the Public Integrity Reform Act. Here’s the statement:
“Today’s signing is a major step forward in restoring the people’s trust in government and changing the way Albany does business,” Governor Cuomo said. “This new ethics reform law brings an aggressive new approach to returning integrity to the halls of our Capitol. It provides for much-needed disclosure of outside income by lawmakers, creates an independent monitor to investigate corruption, and issues strong new rules for lobbyists. I thank the Legislature for working to pass this important legislation.” Once a national model, New York State government’s reputation has been widely discredited through corruption, a lack of independent ethical oversight, and a failure to require more robust disclosure of outside income sources. The Public Integrity Reform Act of 2011 includes:
- Greater Financial Disclosure: Financial disclosure statements filed with the new Joint Commission on Public Ethics from elected officials will now be posted on the internet and the practice of redacting the monetary values and amounts reported by the filer will be ended. The Act also includes greater and more precise disclosure of financial information by expanding the categories of value used by reporting individuals to disclose the dollar amounts in their financial disclosure statements. The Act requires disclosure of the reporting individual’s and his or her firm’s certain outside clients and customers doing business with, receiving grants or contracts from, seeking legislation or resolutions from, or involved in cases or proceedings before the State as well as certain of such clients that were brought to the firm by the public official.
- Increased Access to Who is Appearing Before the State and Why: The Act establishes a new database of any individual or firm that appears in a representative capacity before any state governmental entity.
- Additional Disclosures for Registered Lobbyists: The bill expands lobbying disclosure requirements, including the disclosure by lobbyists of any “reportable business relationships” of more than $1,000 with public officials. It also expands the definition of lobbying to include advocacy to affect the “introduction” of legislation or resolutions, a change that will help to ensure that all relevant lobbying activities are regulated by the new Joint Commission.
- Forfeiture of Pensions for Public Officials Convicted of a Felony: Certain public officials who commit crimes related to their public offices may have their pensions reduced or forfeited in a new civil forfeiture proceeding brought by the Attorney General or the prosecutor who handled the conviction of the official.
- A New Joint Commission on Public Ethics: The Joint Commission on Public Ethics will replace the existing Commission on Public Integrity with jurisdiction over all elected state officials and their employees, both executive and legislative, as well as lobbyists.
- Clarifying Independent Expenditures For Elections: The Act requires the state board of elections to issue new regulations clarifying disclosure of Independent Expenditures.
- Increased Penalties for Violations: The Act substantially increases penalties for violations of the filing requirements and contribution limits in the Election Law, and provides for a special enforcement proceeding in the Supreme Court. The bill also increases penalties for violations of certain provisions of the state’s code of Ethics that prohibits conflicts of interest.